We start our exploration of Istanbul


Western Turkey - Personal Journal
Day 2 - Thursday, 2 April 1998

Our plane touched down in Istanbul at 12:08 pm after a flight that lasted 8 hours 52 minutes, the longest non-stop flight we have endured to date. First stop in the airport is to pay our entrance fee into Turkey. They call it a visa fee. We had expected a $20 fee. Turned out to be $45. Currently (Sept 2005) the visa fee for US passport holders is $20 for a single entry visa and $65 for multiple entries. By the way - they want payment in US dollars. We were at the front of the line at the ticket counter so this didn't take very long. Next we got into the line to have our passports stamped. This line moved very slowly for some reason. The stamper must have been memorizing the contents of everyone's passport. Why else would he have looked at each passport so long?

Now it was on to the luggage carousel to pick up our bags. Geri's arrived, Jim's did not. Fortunately it would show up at the hotel about 24 hours later and we would learn that it had gone to Athens. Next time we will cross-pack. We'll put some of Geri's clothes in Jim's bag and visa versa. We must remember not to cross-dress however.

At the last stop before leaving the airport we converted US dollars into Turkish lira. Our tour handbook suggested that we change $200 per person. We had been prepared to do that but since the visa fee was more than expected we had only $180 each to convert. For $360 we got, are you ready? … 84,235,000 TL. We were now multi-millionaires. At the end of the Turkey portion of our trip we had only about $20 worth of lira left. We donated that to charity.

The official conversion rate was 241,600 lira per dollar which was then discounted 3% and a 130,464 TL fee was added. Finally they rounded down to the next 5,000 lira. That's how 360 US dollars became 84,235,000 Turkish lira.

By late April 2001 the conversion rate for the Turkish lira had reached 1,250,000 lira to the dollar! By 2005 inflation was somewhat under control in Turkey and the value of the Turkish lira has been fairly steady for at least two years. I think is was sometime in 2004 when six zeros were striped from the currency resulting in a 1,000,000 lira bill becoming a 1 lira bill. Today (Sept 2005) we would get only about 475 Turkish lira for our $360.


About half of our ETBD tour members arrived in Istanbul on the same Delta flight. The hotel van was at the airport to collect us all. Finally we were all in the van, stuffed in like sausages with our luggage. The route to the hotel displayed a mix of views, as we drove around the peninsula on Caddesi Kennedy by the Marmara Sea. Beautiful carpets were hanging out on the balconies of several buildings. Some of the buildings appeared ready to collapse under the weight of the carpets.

I have read that in the early centuries, when a visiting king or hero was expected, everyone would hang carpets and kilims out of windows, so that the whole city would be aglow with their wondrous colors. The ones we saw were probably just being aired, but it did make a nice welcoming touch.

It was the contrast of sturdy buildings next to decrepit looking buildings that got my attention on this day. Just as I was thinking that the street we were on looked like the rougher areas of LA, we turned the corner into what looked like the outlying sections of Tijuana.


There was our hotel in the midst of this poor neighborhood, looking quite out of place with its clean painted yellow exterior. Around the corner was a playground with a dirt surface only a few feet below the ledge of a cliff where some young shepherd boys were guarding cows and sheep. Above that a section of old city wall still stood.

We arrived at the hotel at about 1:30 pm, almost exactly 24 hours after our alarm went off at home. At 3:30 we walked to the Hippodrome, Blue Mosque and the Aya Sophia. We made our first purchase, a scarf. The asking price was 2,000,000 TL but we drove a hard bargain and got the price down to 1,500,000 or about $6. We probably paid too much.

We were besieged by young boys selling postcards, tour books, and little wooden tops. We were approached by and chatted with four carpet salesmen. They always began by asking if we were from America. When we said yes they said they wanted to practice their English. Soon they were asking us to visit their carpet shop for a cup of apple tea. We didn't. By the time the fourth one walked up to us Jim knew what was coming and said "you want to sell us a carpet don't you?" He hung his head and admitted the truth. He added, "but I'm an innocent carpet salesman." They were all quite charming.

On our first outing we discovered that language was no more of an issue than when ordering at a fast food restaurant at home.

By 5:00 we were back near the hotel. We bought a 1.5 liter bottle of water and four oranges for 275,000 TL or about $1.15. We were too tired to go find a place to eat so for dinner we ate the oranges and some of the snack foods we had brought from home. Sunset was at 7:30. We were asleep by 8 pm.